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The Role of Data Collection in Project Management
Data collection is necessary for practically any project. You can use data collection methods for stakeholders during the analysis of a project. Use the Power/Influence grid to identify relevant stakeholders and then use the following data collection methods:
- One-on-One Interviews
- Focus Group Discussion
- Collaborative Workshop Mode
At the end of this article, there is a checklist for collecting data from stakeholders. You can use this checklist as is or adapt it as per the requirements of your analysis.
Image Credit: SXC
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Data Collection Method 1 - One-on-One Interviews
One-on-one interviews are also known as face-to-face interviews. In this data collection method, you interview stakeholders to extract information relevant to your analysis. The key term here is relevant! The responses you get from stakeholders must be useful for the analysis. Therefore, start the discussion by informing the stakeholder about the activity and the objective. This helps bring in focus to the interview. Before you take the interview, make sure you have created a list of questions to ask. In addition, have a general strategy in mind to guide the interview in a manner that extracts relevant data from the stakeholders.
A benefit of this data collection methods for stakeholders is that the stakeholder is not under any pressure. Many times in group discussions some stakeholders may not express their views honestly for fear of comments from other participants. In one-to-one interviews, this fear doesn't exist.
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Data Collection Method 2 - Focus Group Discussion
These data collection methods for stakeholders involve inviting stakeholders to express their opinion on the objective. The number of people in a focus-group typically varies from 4 to 12 participants. The key to holding a successful focus group session is to ensure no participant dictates the discussion. Therefore, careful moderation is critical to the success of a focus group. Another critical success factor is that the discussions should not be based on preconceived notions. Rather, they should be used to understand them better. Participants should not only concur or disagree, but rather build on the opinion expressed.
Through focus groups, a large amount of data can be collected. The key is to ensure participants are carefully selected. When you moderate a focus group, do watch for politically correct responses. In addition, make sure you clarify practice active listening. This reduces common communication-related errors.
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Data Collection Method 3 - Collaboratve Workshop Mode
The Collaborative Workshop Mode data collection method is possibly the most engaging manner to collect and analyse data. It involves participation from all stakeholders. Depending on the objective, the Collaborative Workshop Mode sessions may be spread over a few sessions, alternatively it could be concluded in one session. For example, suppose you are improving the design of a web application. The data collected can be through statistics and observation of users. This data can then be brought into a Collaborative Workshop Mode session for analysis and drawing conclusion on the web design. To select stakeholders for this type of data collection method, use the Power/Interest grid.
One of the key benefits of this approach is that stakeholder participation is not only used to gather data, but also draw conclusions. This enables a greater degree of engagement from statekholders and also helps in setting expectations. To conduct a Collaborative Workshop Mode session is quite challenging. It requires multiple moderators.
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Data Collection Method 4 - Surveys
Surveys are an economical method of data collection from a large audience. Similar to the other methods of data collection, Surveys require a set of questions that are answered by stakeholders. Deployment of these surveys is typically by an Internet application. You should provide a time frame to stakeholders in which they need to complete the survey. It is quite common to have a dismal survey response. Therefore, for a higher degree of successfor these data collection methods for stakeholders, you should plan to send multiple reminders.
A survey is appropriate for closed-ended questions. For example, suppose you are carrying out a survey to make a decision on the features of a mobile phone intended for people over 50. Your survey should contain a list of features from which participants can select a few. You wouldn't ask open-ended questions for these data collections methods for stakeholders. To make decisions in projects, you can also use Decision Trees.
In addition, the responses from stakeholders of a survey may not be a true answer, rather it could be just another click. Do not make the survey too long; participants get bored and consequently do not complete the survey or complete the survey without even read the question! Make sure the survey states the amount of time it'll take to complete. Make sure this time is realistic. This method of data collection is used extensively in industry.
Image Credit: SXC
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Data Collection Method 5 - Observation
Observation is a method of data collection that involves physically viewing the actions of the end customers. To use these data collection methods for stakeholders, you need to observe participants. For example, you might be gathering data to understand the mistakes sales people make while selling cameras or camcorders. For this, you could ask them for the mistakes and most probably they'll say, "I don't make any!" Alternatively, you could physically be there to observe the mistakes. The key to success in this method of data collection is to make sure the participants do not get conscious.
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Methods of Data Collection Checklist
Here's a quick reference that you can use while implementing the methods of data collection discussed in this article:
- Why are you collecting the data? Define the objective. Consider using the SMART framework.
- Have you identified the stakeholders from whom you'll gather the data? Select the stakeholders that can give relevant information.
- Have you set expectations with the identified stakeholders? By setting expectations, you are ensuring the stakeholders know what is expected out of them and how much of their time is required. When you set expectations, clearly mention the objective of the analysis.
- Have you created a set of questions to ask? The key to rich data collection is the set of questions you have prepared. Use both close and open-ended questions.
- Do you need support to document stakeholder response? This is probably the most common problem faced during method of data collection, such as interviews. It is common for the interviewer not to be able to document responses accurately and perform the interview. Ideally, get some support to document the data collected from stakeholders.
- Have you determined their preference in providing you with data? The method of data collection you deploy for each stakeholder may vary accordingly. For example, a stakeholder may not like to express her opinion in a group setting. Therefore, a one-on-one interview is most probably going to be a more appropriate data collection method to employ.